Friday afternoon around 150 people gathered in the Center Gym at Woodbridge to celebrate the swearing in of newly elected and appointed members of various boards and commissions in town. These are people who give of their time to work together with their friends and neighbors in Woodbridge to help make our town a better place.
Just a few days earlier, the incoming Board of Selectmen gathered to vote on appointments to there boards and commissions. Due to family logistics, I watched the proceedings from home on Channel 79. As a member of the Government Access Television Commission, I was disappointed with the sound quality of the broadcast, but I could hear enough to make the following observation.
Selectman Joseph Dey expressed concerns about how the process was being handled. He talked about how he wanted more information about the people he would be voting on. It is a laudable request that he failed move forward with.
I am fairly involved in town politics, but I suspect that I know less than half the appointees and I would have loved to hear more information about these people who volunteer to serve our town. If Selectman Dey had been truly concerned about who was being appointed to the various boards and commissions, before each vote, when First Selectman Ellen Scalettar asked if there was any discussion, Selectman Dey could have said something like, "I don't believe I know Neelam Gupta. Why do you think Neelam would be a good member of the Economic Development Commission?"
I must admit, I'm not sure if I know who Neelam is and would have appreciated hearing the answer. I'm sure it would have been informative, and I suspect I would have ended up thinking Neelam would be a good commissioner.
Instead, Selectman Dey abstained on just about every vote, winning him the nickname among some local political pundits of Joey the Abstainer. One person commented on Facebook that they were "surprised that he was unaware of some of the bigger names at the Town Hall. For example, Terry Gilbertson is a fixture and was an easy vote to NOT abstain from." The response was, "perhaps Selectman Dey represents those in town who chose not to know who their neighbors are or what is going on in town".
Instead, Selectman Dey may have been trying to make a point about his inability to work constructively with other elected officials. He may have been seeking to place the blame on the other elected officials, but in the end, it appeared that he was the problem. I hope, for the sake of the town, he learns how to work better with others as his term progresses.
Now some of you may raise the concern that asking questions about the nominees would have made the meeting much longer. That too, is a valid concern, but personally, I would have liked a longer meeting hearing great things about my friends and neighbors that volunteer to help in our community. Hopefully, we will get other chances for this.
At the end of the commencement ceremony for the 2013 CT Health Leaders Fellowship, we were all invited to stand and take one step forward, symbolizing the first step of a thousand mile journey. It is a journey of eliminating health disparities. I had spoken earlier about being an equal opportunity activist, and that this journey was but one of many journeys I am on.
All of this came back to me in many ways this past week. Thursday night was the annual Nurse's dinner at the Community Health Center. One of the stories was of a 450 pound diabetic man who had fallen through the cracks of the American health care system. A care-coordination nurse tracked down his story and followed through to help him get bariatric surgery. He has already lost thirty pounds and with therapy, is starting to walk again after having been bedridden for over a year.
Later, we heard a little bit of her story, an immigrant from a war torn country, who struggled with diabetes and depression through school, but eventually became a nurse at CHC. The patient is on his journey of recovery, aided by a nurse who has taken difficult first steps in her journey to this country and her journey to becoming a nurse.
The story stayed in my mind Friday morning as I went to the funeral of a former classmate and co-worker of my wife. Emily was taken from us way to early, by complications from diabetes.
This week also saw important other steps in our life together as a country. The Supreme Court dismantled key parts of the Voting Rights Act, but it took away some restrictions on gay marriage. I watched the wedding ceremony streaming across the Internet where plaintiffs in the challenge to Prop 8, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were married.
I read stories about Paula Dean and Rachel Jeantel and I thought about how much work still needs to be done before all people truly are treated equally in all states, no matter what their race or sexual orientation is.
I imagine that the 450 pound patient celebrated the first steps in his recovery as he sat back down and rested after the strain of those steps. Tonight, I go to bed emotionally weary, celebrating first steps, lamenting steps backwards, and mourning the death of a friend.
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit; the month of June rolls in with hot humid weather, and life slowing down, close enough to normal for me to write my typical start of the month blog post with the childhood invocation of good luck.
Today, being the first Saturday of June, the Essex Rotary Club is having their annual Shad Bake. I've never been to a shad bake before, but a friend has spoken highly of them, so I'm thinking about working this into the schedule if possible.
Then, tomorrow, Miranda's book, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something gets launched up in Somerville, MA. I'm really looking forward to the event. Miranda just received her Masters of Education in Community Art, and the book has a bit to say about the educational system. For example, see this video of Miranda reading an excerpt from her book.
It fits well with Sarah Darer Littman's Op-Ed in CTNewsJunkie, An Open Letter to Connecticut Students.
June will see the end of the 2013 legislative session in Connecticut. I'll complete the CT Health Foundations, Health Leadership Fellows program and be doing various social media presentations.
Perhaps most importantly, I'll be spending time, when possible, swimming.
As I sat at the Commencement ceremonies at Lesley University's Graduate School of Education, I thought to myself, "When was the last time you saw a help wanted ad asking for a standardized employee, must be good at filling in oval circles?" Most of the help wanted ads I see are looking for unique creative thinkers that must be self-starters able to work well in teams.
It seemed as if many of the teachers in the audience who had gone on to get advanced degrees knew all to well the failings of our push towards more standardized testing. The messages from the speakers were about the value of radical approaches to education and compassionate inclusiveness; when we think about 'them', all those people that are different from us in this shrinking world, we will eventually come to understand "They are us".
Looking at things from through the lens of health care reform, a topic I've been immersed in recently, I wondered what education reform could learn from health care reform. One of the big topics in health care reform, when you get past the hyperbole about Obamacare, is evidence based research into health outcomes. What are the outcomes we are looking for and how effective are different health care procedures?
Perhaps we need to look a similar way at education, what are the outcomes we are seeking? Are we looking to standardize all Americans and make them good at filling in little ovals? Standardized testing may be good at this, but is it what we're really looking for? How about teaching creativity and teamwork? This may be more useful in helping students find jobs and be productive, but is employment and productivity the highest goal we should be seeking? Where do values like compassion fit in?
Another key topic of discussion in health care is establishing the proper level of testing. Our health care costs have gotten out of control, in part, because of an over-reliance on testing. How often should a patient have a mammography? A PSA test? A colonoscopy? When are MRIs really called for?
If a patient tests negative for a condition commonly screened for and doesn't have a history indicating the likelihood of a condition developing, perhaps they should be tested less often. Maybe we should look at the same thing with standardized testing of students.
Many of my friends are eager to dismiss standardized testing outright. It has been promoted by corporations that benefit from it, and has not been designed by teachers in the front lines. Yet I've spoken with others that defend it, particularly as a tool to address underachieving schools, often in poor urban ethnically diverse school districts.
Following the idea of testing in health care, if a school is performing well, perhaps it shouldn't have yearly standardized tests. Perhaps every three years is sufficient, maybe even less frequently, depending on the stability of the teachers, the administration, and previous test scores. Yet for school districts that are not performing well, they might be needed on a yearly basis.
By moving away from standardized testing, schools can pursue lessons that will really help students in the real world, while schools that aren't managing to cover the basics continue to work on fundamental topics. Of course, this begs the question of what the basics really should be, what really is fundamental to a good education. As we think about a core curriculum, are we really teaching what will be core to students success in the twenty-first century, or, are we teaching what is core to maintaining the profits of an educational testing complex. That's a topic for a different blog post.
The big white dog wanders contentedly outside in the early morning rain falling gently on the trees. It seems like overnight, the trees have come into full foliage. Perhaps it is because the past few nights have blended together into one giant blur. There is so much to be done.
Yesterday at work, we said good bye to a work study student heading off on his next great adventure. A week before, we said good bye to another co-worker who had also left in search of her path. Inevitably stories of my trips hitchhiking around the States and Europe and living on a sailboat afterwards came up.
On Thursday evening, I drove up to hear one of my daughters present her Masters Thesis, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something.
It provides an interesting contrast to all those commencement speeches so many of us will be hearing over the coming month; "but then the next day comes". There have been over twelve thousand next days since I left college, and what have I made?
After work, I went to a baby naming ceremony followed by a gathering of friends. I've made friends, I've helped make a family. I've made my careers. I've made many blog posts. But is it enough? Perhaps its not art, but it's something.
As a proud father, I thought Miranda's thesis presentation was the best, but there were many great presentations. They all focused on various aspects of creativity and education. What role does, or should art play in the schools? How do the arts relate to leadership? Where does creativity fit into daily life.
I've been thinking about various aspects of this for the Connecticut Health Foundations, Health Leaders Fellowship. Next month there will be a discussion at the foundation about leadership and social media. What is your digital footprint? Leaders need to think about how they are publicly visible around the issues they lead on.
I remember reading one paper about the difficulties that teens face today. The teenage years are about creating an identity, and now, teenagers now need to create not only the identity as seen in school and at parties, but also a digital identity. It isn't just teenagers that need to create this. We are all, either consciously, or unconsciously, creating digital identities. What's yours?
Writers and actors may have some experience in creating characters, but what about everyone else? And how does the fact that we are creating ourselves, and not something fictitious complicate the process?
Later today, I will head up to Middletown to participate in the Middletown Remix project.
It encourages people to 'hear more, see more'. How much do we really see or hear? How much passes unnoticed in the blur of daily life, like the sudden appearance of a full canopy of leaves? How does this relate to the creative process, to our creative process, as we create our lives?
Keep making something, every day. It is the start to making art, the art of our lives.